Now, you’ve done it. You’ve launched a writing group, or you’re about to. What now? It’s time to organize. Here’s what to do at the first meeting:
1. Break the Ice
Give each member a few minutes to introduce themselves, or try the team-building game Two Truths and a Lie: Have members come prepared to present, with a straight face, three interesting things about them; everyone else votes on which two items are true and which is false (though it can be a variation on the truth or an aspiration).
2. Set a Schedule
How often will the group meet? Every week is probably pushing it, so vote on whether sessions will be held every two weeks or monthly. Agree on meeting duration. (Two hours is a good block of time.) Ask members to commit to attending regularly and arriving punctually.
3. Establish Goals
What do you and the other members want to get out of the group? Is everyone determined to get published, or is the experience just a way to solicit feedback in a supportive environment and work on writing skills? Make sure everyone has a common ambition. Consider creating a mission statement.
4. Determine Protocol
Briefly discuss meeting structure: Does everyone read every time, or do members alternate every two or three meetings? Do members email work in progress in advance so that others can prepare critiques, or do they give cold readings? Will your group alternate between both strategies?
Consider having members take turns preparing mini-tutorials based on their experiences or research, like describing the different archetypal characters or sharing a list of plot pitfalls. Or give each person a chance to share an advice tidbit from an accomplished author.
5. Take a Break
Allow five or ten minutes halfway through the session for a snack and small talk, but don’t let it drag out.
6. Read Samples
Give everyone a chance to read briefly from a work in progress. Have members start right off without a preface and then take a moment to talk about the story. Save critiques for subsequent sessions — this is just a chance for everyone to get a taste of others’ writing styles.
7. Plan Ahead
Agree on what to do next time: Have everyone email an excerpt to the group a week before the next session, prepare a short selection to read aloud, or plan to bring hard copies of a sample passage to hand out. (Materials for cold readings by writers or others should be no more than a couple of pages; excerpts sent in advance can be longer).
Decide what the focus will be each time: crafting an opening scene, establishing character, etc. Focus on technical aspects for a while before delving into content.
Coming up: How to run a writing group.